"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Nick Yarris: 'How I survived 22 years on death row'

Nick Yarris was charged with rape and murder when he was 20
Nick Yarris was charged with rape and murder when he was 20.
Nick Yarris spent more than two decades on death row in the US after he was wrongly convicted of rape and murder, before a DNA test eventually freed him.

"I genuinely believe that being on death row for 22 years ultimately saved my life. It was the greatest adventure of my life, and I survived it."

Nick Yarris has never had an apology for being imprisoned for crimes he did not commit.

He spent almost all that time in solitary confinement, sometimes being beaten so badly by prison guards that, on one occasion, his retina detached.

"The hardest thing to do when people are hurting you is to remain a decent person," he told the Victoria Derbyshire programme.

While on death row, he educated himself about the law, and sometimes read up to three books in a day. "The whole purpose of my education ultimately was so I could deliver a statement eloquently before my execution," he said.

For 22 of the 23 years he spent in prison, Nick genuinely believed he would be executed.

Nick has now written his own book about his life called "The Fear of 13", because he believed bad things happened to him around the 13th date.

"I didn't mind the 23 hours a day solitary confinement for the majority of the time, because after the first few years in prison, when I stopped being angry and started to like myself and understand myself, it was OK. I still enjoy my own company sometimes.

"I've never had any psychiatric help since leaving prison. I studied psychology in there and applied it to myself."

Nick grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia with his parents and five siblings, but his happy childhood was shattered when, aged seven, he was attacked by a teenage boy who hit him on the head so hard it gave him brain damage and then raped him. He did not tell his parents.

The trauma of this assault led his behaviour into a downward spiral and as he got older he began drinking and taking drugs. He was arrested, aged 20, after being accused of the attempted kidnap and murder of a police officer - a charge of which he was later acquitted.

But while in custody before that trial, Nick was desperate to get out and so made up a story, telling police he knew who committed the murder of a woman, Linda Mae Craig, who he had only read about in the newspaper and had never met.

"I was just desperate, a drug-addled kid who didn't know what to do to get out of jail."

He said the murderer was a man with whom he once briefly lived. Nick thought the man - who had stolen money from him - had later died and so believed he could safely trade this false information for his own freedom.
However, the man Nick accused was still alive and the lie was exposed. The police then charged Nick with these crimes instead. In 1982, he was convicted of the woman's rape and murder and sent to death row.

During his imprisonment in Pennsylvania jails, Nick's only possessions were a couple of paper sacks full of legal materials, some novels, toiletries and a small radio. He was only allowed to exercise for 30 minutes on weekdays in a small cage.

He would spend 14 years, from 1989 to 2003, without being touched by another human being. During this time, he would lie on his arm until it went numb and then use it to rub his face, as though it were someone else.

In 1988 he became the first man on death row in the United States to ask for DNA testing, but this led to years of heartbreaking delays and churning frustrations, such as when a vital package containing DNA samples burst open when it was posted to a laboratory, destroying the evidence.

Click here to read the full article

Source: BBC News, Mario Cacciottolo, November 16, 2916

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